3 posts tagged "Charles James"
“It’s an opportunity to blow everyone’s minds,” grinned Costume Institute curator Harold Koda at the new (and very much so, as the paint was still drying) Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday morning. Koda was referring not just to the physical space, but the forthcoming inaugural exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. “He is generally acknowledged to be one of a handful of designers to have changed the métier of design,” said Koda of the innovative couturier. “Christian Dior has credited James with inspiring his New Look. And Balenciaga said, ‘James is not America’s best couturier; he is simply the world’s best.’ When you have the two perhaps most important male designers of the mid-20th century endorsing you, you can understand that it’s something of a lack that the general public is not aware of this man’s work.”
Yesterday’s press conference provided a small window into what to expect in May’s exhibition. There was a curated collection of James’ original pieces on display: The deep red, seamlessly movable silk taffeta Tree dress he created for Marietta Peabody Tree (Penelope’s mother) in 1955 and the renowned Four-Leaf Clover ball gown, made for Austine Hearst and worn with a live-gardenia-covered jacket in 1953, were two. The jacket was re-created with the tech-ready help of architecture firm DRS. Elettra Wiedemann slipped into the 10-pound, strapless, curve-highlighting creation to give the attendees a sense of its ballroom twirl.
“[James was the] originator of the spiral-cut taxi dress. Advocator of the strapless. Inventor of the figure-eight shirt and puffer jacket. A waist that expanded after a meal. The no-cup bra,” asserted Koda, later telling Style.com, “[He] was really radical. He was an early proponent at a point where he made something that was difficult to understand very desirable. He treated the creation of clothing as an art. Even some of the greatest designers have said, ‘Oh, this is not an art. It’s a craft.’ Vionnet said, ‘I’m a dressmaker.’ Balenciaga, who used conventional tailoring and pushed it to the extreme, was still reliant on history. James wasn’t like that at all.”
The exhibition will open May 8 and run through August 10. It’s a move away from recent mass read, overtly pop culture, sexy Costume Institute shows—punk, the model, the supermodel, etc. A lesson in the underappreciated, indeed.
Following this year’s much-talked-about exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture, the Met announced today that the next subject in line at the Costume Institute will be twentieth-century couturier Charles James. While it mightn’t exactly pack the pop-culture punch that punk did this year, Charles James: Beyond Fashion will show off the work of a less-remembered designer who is still regarded as a genius by those in the know. Curated by Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder, the exhibition will give visitors the chance to see the innovations James made within haute couture up close, from wrap-over trousers to spiral-cut dresses. But it’s James’ iconic ball gowns from the thirties through to the fifties that will take center stage. Drawn from an archive acquired in part from the Brooklyn Museum in 2009, and lovingly restored by the Met, these technically astounding dresses might be enough to make Charles James a household name once more. The extensive collection—the most comprehensive of any designer at any museum in the world—will be showcased in a newly renovated Costume Institute making its debut at the annual gala in May 2014. Mark the date in your diaries now. We can’t wait to see how fashion’s celebrities interpret this one.
Part Two of the sweeping Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology’s exhibit Fashion, A-Z opened at noon today. At this morning’s preview, editors, who trekked through the dreary mist, were cheered up by the sights of famous ball gowns and sparkling cocktail attire. “I’m always wowed by Charles James,” said the exhibit’s co-curator Jennifer Farley. She was nodding to a strapless silk taffeta gown the color of a dusty rose (pictured), from the actress Lisa Kirk, that could have doubled for sculpture. “I’ve heard that he was difficult to work with, but he was a perfectionist,” Farley added.
James, of course, was not alone in his technical feats. In contrast to Part One of the exhibition (originally called The Great Designers: Part One), Farley and Colleen Hill showcased some of the big American names, like a jewel-encrusted Ralph Lauren long-sleeved gown, a black and ivory chiffon red-carpet number by Hollywood costume designer Irene Lentz, and a purple silk jersey Norman Norell stunner from 1965, glittering with sequins that had been hand-sewn and reinforced individually. “To think there was that kind of quality in ready-to-wear,” Farley wondered aloud.
Of the 60-plus looks, there were also neat tie-ins. In one section, there was a short-sleeved dress by Pierre Balmain. Further into the exhibit, Balmain’s mentor Edward Molyneux was represented. And for runway fans, there were current pieces as well, which might inspire nostalgia. In wide white and blue striped silk, a Raf Simons for Jil Sander floor-length dress from Spring 2011 was modern and sporty, which contrasted with an unforgettable Chantilly lace black ball gown by Olivier Theykens for Rochas directly across the walkway. The romantic nighttime look, from the Spring 2004 collection, is sure to elicit some sighs.
Fashion A-Z, Part Two at the Museum at FIT, Seventh Ave. at 27th St. On view May 23 to November 10.